The Stolen Story and Other Newspaper Stories/The New Reporter
The New Reporter
ONE day a cub reporter was sent to cover a meeting of an East Side literary club, which was to debate about Arbitration and its effect upon international peace. But he came back to the office within an hour looking disappointed.
"Where's your story?" asked the city editor.
"There wasn't any story to write," replied the new reporter, picking up a newspaper; "they couldn't agree upon the wording of the subject, and they got to arguing and calling names, and finally the meeting broke up in a free fight; so I came back."
The city editor came down from his desk and gazed pitifully upon the cub. "They were to have debated on peace," he said, sorrowfully, "and the meeting broke up in a fight. And there was nothing to write! You may go." That is a story they tell along the Row, and it is an old one. It is of another reporter I am to tell.
This, too, is old, but it has not been told before, perhaps because it is not a story. But I believe the reason is that those who know it best do not care to tell about it.
My cub reporter was pacing up and down before a comfortable-looking house on the avenue, trying to make his legs take him up the steps, and they would not do it.
He had been told to find out what a well-known New York family had to say about its son's ejection from a music-hall the night before for tossing hats and slippers at a variety actress on the stage from a box where he sat with his arm around another actress. The new reporter had been walking up and down before the house for ten minutes.
At last, looking in both directions to make sure no one he knew was near, he took a long breath, dashed up the steps and rang the bell.
"Is Colonel Richardson at home?"
"No sir," said the servant.
"Is—is Mrs. Richardson at home?"
"They are both out, sir."
"Thank God!" whispered the reporter, and ran down the steps again, two at a time. That was poor journalism.
But he was a cub reporter, and he had much to learn about the meaning of the word News.
The night before he had had another lesson, a different sort of lesson.
They had sent him over on the East Side to find out about the drowning of a ten-year-old boy. It was reported on the police station returns as possibly a suicide.
The night was hot and sticky ("as humid as a wet sponge," wrote the man with the weather story), and the East Side was full of midsummer-night noises and awful smells. Thin children, with shrill voices, were playing in the streets.' Some of these showed him the way up the dark stairs to the flat where the drowned child had lived.
"He's the doctor," whispered one of them.
"Ah, come on down-stairs," called up an other.
The door was open and the neighbors were gathering in. Linton, feeling like an intruder, went in, too. But they did not consider his presence displeasing at all. They seemed to feel it an honor. The father arose and gave the reporter a chair, and the mother began telling about it all over again and cried some more. The neighbors fanned themselves and nodded assent to all the mother said about the dead child's virtues. Occasionally they stared at Linton. The old man smoked hard and wiped perspiration on his sleeve.
It was not a suicide—he verified this from the police later—but it was very sad, and the new reporter was sorry about it. They seemed grateful for his sympathy, and asked if he wouldn't like to see the body. Linton said, "Oh, no; thank you." But they wanted to show him some attention and insisted upon taking him into the room where the small, thin body lay all alone, with the hair still wet and the mouth half open, showing two big childish teeth. The other children's yelling voices came in through the window from the street below.
The new reporter had seen but two dead persons before in all his life; and he went back through the noisy, hot, foul-smelling streets, thinking of the mystery of death and the sadness of desolation. Then entering the office, which seemed so thoughtlessly full of life and the interests of the living, he re ported at the desk of the night city editor.
Stone, the night city editor, was reading copy, but twitched his ugly pipe, which meant, "Well, what did you get?" for this man did not believe in talking when he could help it.
The new reporter began to tell all about it. He thought it ought to make a pretty good little East Side pathetic story—the genuine unrestrained grief of the lowly; the mother crying; the father smoking and not saying much; the kind, gossipy neighbors, etc.
Without looking up, Mr. Stone asked, "Suicide or not?" and kept on running his pencil through copy.
"No," the new reporter replied, "he just fell in off the string-piece of the dock, at the foot of Rutgers Street. But it was pretty sad, I thought. They told me what a fine kid he had been, and how high he stood in his class and all that, and they took me in and showed me the body, with the medal he had won at school still around his neck, and the ribbon all wet and faded. He was to have spoken a piece, they said, next Friday at the school exercises. He had been rehearsing only an hour before. While they told me, the other kids, the ones he used to play with, were calling to each other outside in the street below, and——"
The night city editor looked annoyed. "Never mind," he said, and turned over another sheet of copy.
Linton hesitated. "Well, sha'n't I write anything?" he asked.
Mr. Stone finished with the paragraph he was editing, then looked up. "Hell, no," he said; "hundreds of 'em fall in every summer. But a suicide at ten would have been good news, worth, perhaps, a column; for that is unusual. You see the distinction." So did the cub reporter now.
This young man had thought that, with a college and university training and some experience at amateur scribbling, he ought to be able to write good enough reports of things for a newspaper. Any one could do that, he thought.
It was a perfectly natural mistake; others have made it. No one with or without two academic degrees and no experience could write reports of things good enough for a newspaper to publish. Not even William Shakespeare would know what to get or how to put it without some training at reporting. To be sure he might get better things and put them in immortal English, but his copy would not "get by the desk." For this thing reporting is a business involving consider able specialized knowledge, to be learned by experiments and mistakes, like every other job, and there's considerable toil and moil and drudgery at the bottom, just as there is at the bottom of any other business or pursuit. So young Linton was bossed around and jumped upon and made to feel very small and stupid and in the way, just as he would have been in a law office, or a mercantile house, or at the bottom of any other place. But he wanted to be bossed and banged around. That was one of the reasons why he had gone into this work.
It was so much better than dreamily drinking beer in Germany and telling himself that he was a sociologist. It had been a pleasant, contemplative existence for awhile, and he had heard some interesting theories, but he had been doing the student thing too long; and so when he came back to his own country for a vacation he did not keep up the feeling of kindly patronage toward the United States he had felt coming up the bay. The good American yearning to go and do for himself had come upon him. He decided that he was sick of the ease and inexactness of the scholar—sick, too, of having some one else pay his bills, sick of leisurely reading theories about man as a unit. He wanted to see something of men as warm human beings, with their passions and pursuits, their motives and their ways of looking at things. He could not have chosen a better field for it.
"Here, Mr. Linton," the city editor would say, "this man died this afternoon. See if it's true that he drank himself to death. Run up and have a talk with the family."
"Yes, sir," Linton would reply, and then shudder at the thought of how nasty the crinkly crape was going to feel when he yanked it out of the way in order to jangle the doorbell and ask questions of red-eyed women.
He wondered if all this ever bothered the other reporters, many of whom seemed to be very much the same sort of people as him self and his friends. But—except when they got hold of a "beat," which always caused absurd excitement—they seemed quite cheerful and businesslike in getting and writing their news. "I suppose you get used to it in time," he said to one of these.
"Oh, they like to have the papers print the list of clubs he belonged to," was the reply.
Down along the East River water front the big, brave ships from far away foreign ports rest at ease, with their bowsprits slouching out half way across South Street. Quaint figure-heads are on their bows, and on their sterns names still more quaint and full of soft vowels which mean something in some part of the seven seas; brigs from the West Indies and barks from South Africa; Nova Scotia schooners and full-rigged clipper ships from Calcutta and from San Francisco by way of the Horn.
Here the young reporter liked to prowl about when out on a weather story, looking at the different foreign flags and at the odd foreign cargoes unloading in strangely-wrought shipping boxes which smelled of spices, and wondering about the voyage over and about the private history of the bare-footed, underfed sailors who made it. The stevedores' derricks puffed and creaked, and far overhead the cars on the bridge rumbled on, but the big ships seemed calm and patient, and full of mystery, as if they knew too many wondrous things to be impressed by anything in America. But all this had nothing to do with the weather story, or how the fog was affecting the shipping, or how much behind their schedule the ferry-boats were running, or whether (by good fortune) there had been any collisions in the river. That was what he was down there for.
Then, too, he used to have some good times when his assignment took him over into what used to be Greenwich; along old, crooked, narrow, village-like streets running all sorts of directions and crossing each other where they had no right to; where the shops and people and the whole atmosphere still seemed removed and village-like. He had a lot of fun looking out for old houses with lovable doorways and fanlights and knockers, and sometimes good white Greek columns. And then, up along East Broadway, which was once so fashionable and is now so for lorn, with dirty cloakmakers in the spacious drawing-rooms and signs in Hebrew characters in the windows. He used to gaze at them as he walked by and dream about the old days of early century hospitality there; the queer clothes the women wore and the strong punch the men drank, and the stilted conversation they both liked, instead of planning how to work up his story, and then with a shock would discover that he had passed the house where he was to push in and ask a woman if it was true that her husband had run away with another man's wife; and the worst of it was that they generally talked about it.
Not that all his assignments were disagreeable. There was the bright, windy day he was sent down to the proving-grounds on Sandy Hook to write about the new disappearing gun-carriage (which covered him and the rest of the party with yellow-powder dust), and he lunched with the Secretary of the Navy, who was very jolly and gave him a half-column interview. There was Izi Zim, the pipe-maker, up on Third Avenue, and the Frenchman on Twenty-third Street, who taught skirt-dancing; and there was his good friend, Garri-Boulu, the old Hindoo sailor, who had landed on one of the big Calcutta ships suffering with beriberi, and was now slowly dying in the Presbyterian Hospital because he wouldn't lose caste by eating meat, and was so polite that he cried for fear he was giving the young doctors too much trouble. It took him into odd places, this news-gathering, and made him meet queer people, and it was a fascinating life for all its disagreeableness, and it was never monotonous, for it was never alike two days in succession. It was full of contrasts—almost dramatic contrasts, sometimes. One afternoon he was sent to cover a convention of spiritualists who wore their hair long; that evening, a meeting of the Association of Liquor Dealers, who had huge black mustaches, and the next day he was one of a squad of men under an old experienced reporter up across the Harlem River at work on a murder "mystery," smoking cigars with Central Office detectives and listening to the afternoon-paper men, who, in lieu of real news, made up theories for one edition which they promptly tore down in the next. That evening found him within the sombre walls of the New York Foundling Hospital, up on Lexington Avenue, asking questions of soft-voiced sisters and talking with wise young doctors about an epidemic of measles which was killing off the babies.
He liked all this. He thought it was because he was a sociologist; but it was because he was a boy. It gave him a thrill to go down into a cellar after murder-clews with a detective, just as it would any other full-blooded male. He was becoming good friends with some of these sleuths—most of whom, by the way, were not at all sleuth-like in appearance, and went about their day's work in very much the same matter-of-fact way as reporters and the rest of the town.
Indeed, if he could only shed some of his sensibilities when assignments involved talking to people about things they did not want to talk about, he thought he could be very happy in this wild, free, unconventional life, working when the rest of the town were asleep and eating wherever his work happened to bring him. But, ashamed of it as he was, his pulse beat faster every time he was called up to the desk. "Now what are they going to make me do?" he would ask himself. Of course, he never told anybody, but even when it was only to run down to Wall Street and try to find out from some big gun if that rumor about the Union Pacific was true, he dreaded the task. He knew he would be kept waiting in a long line of people, and he knew he would get angry if he found that he was looked down upon for being a reporter by cocky clerks of Wall Street, most of whom he considered unrefined and so pitifully ignorant—for what did they know of Aryan Roots or The Congestion of Labor! And when his turn came he would hate to walk into the private office and bother a busy man about something which seemed so eminently none of his or his paper's business, that he wondered why this thought never happened to occur to the city editor. The busy man would look up scowling, and growl "I've nothing to say," which hurt, and then it would be the reporter's business to try to make him say something, and, if unsuccessful, he would be scowled at again when he returned to the office, and that hurt still more.
When, however, he did succeed in running down all the facts, there was a satisfaction in hurrying back to the office with them and marching up to the desk and telling them in a few quick sentences, and hearing the editor say, "That's good—write it."
Sometimes it turned out to be a good story and they let him make several sticks of it; then the fine glow of creation that followed the quick writing seemed worth all kinds of trouble, and he ran light-hearted out to dinner at some queer, newspaper-man's joint, mingling with the eager, hurrying throng on the way, and then with the clanging of cable-cars in his ears and the shrill newsboys' cries and all the concentrated roar of the metropolis, he felt that he, too, was part of it all and that this was living, and he was a legitimate factor in the great economic machine; no longer an incumbrance but a wage-earner in the huge, struggling, pushing, shrieking thing they call the world, which is sordid and selfish but very interesting, and where he was jostled up against ever so many other workers, and would have been thrown down and trodden under foot if not able to cope with them. But he could cope with them and keep his head above, and was earning fifteen dollars a week, and lived in a hall-bedroom, top floor, back, with cats outside when he wanted to go to sleep at night, and a young actor in the next room who practised his lines in a would-be English accent, when Linton did not want to wake up in the morning.
And as for the uncle who had offered him a place in his office, not far from Park Row, and who complacently took it for granted that a chance for his own kind of success ought to be respectfully worshipped by Linton or any other young man; and as for his aunt, who had said, "Oh, but to be a reporter is so beneath you," all that had only made him more anxious to try it; and now that their only dinner invitations were the "We'll be glad to have you come any time" sort, he was all the more determined to stick to reporting. He had no respect at all, he wished them to know, for the opinion of those who respected him less for doing the work he had chosen to do; and he enjoyed the situation. He found himself pitying their nice little New York sons, with the well-beaten, perfectly proper path of life they would have to follow after college, with its office at nine o'clock, home at six, dress for dinner, then, nice little New York girls to see in the evening. And the same set of New York people to spend the summer with, and always when they went abroad the same hotels that other nice New Yorkers go to, and thus the same thing over and over and over in exactly the same way as ever so many other nice little dapper New Yorkers—unless, indeed, they had blood enough in them to sicken of it, in which case they would probably get bad for awhile, and make their mother cry at night and their father wonder at what was not at all wonderful. Then, later on, after they had been put up for certain clubs by papa's partner and seconded by Uncle John, who knew everybody, they would marry nice little New York girls who pronounce certain woids like nobody else in the woild—nice, well-dressed, little American products—approved by mamma (only, he doubted that), and, by and by, get a house as near as possible to the houses of other wealthier New Yorkers, and part of a box at the opera perhaps—with their names engraved on the silver door-plate—and be prominent in church-work, possibly, and finally die respectable, and the club flag would be put at half-mast, and some reporter would have a half-column "obit" to write. "Uhh," Linton shuddered, "how do they stand such a life." He thought he would like to be a satirist, if it weren't better to be a sociologist.
They had given him the Tombs Police Court now as a regular department.
Usually they gave him a night assignment or two as well. So he spent his days in jail from nine until four, and his evenings in whatever part of Manhattan or Staten or Long Islands or of the wilds of the Jersey suburbs the editor decreed. As a rule, his night assignments did not amount to much in type. They were to give the cub reporter exercise and experience in approaching people and seeking news. Sometimes a five-line story, which most of you did not even see—and Linton himself had trouble to find—would cost five hours' work and as many dollars in railroad and carriage fares, not to speak of sensibilities and fatigue in mind and body. More often the young reporter looked through and through the paper, letting his coffee get cold, to find nothing printed at all.
The Tombs was horrible, but at first it was also interesting because it satisfied the natural morbid curiosity that goes with a number of better tastes in every human being. But very soon this was more than satisfied, it was glutted, and he found he could not digest it all, and the Tombs became horrible without being at all interesting—so horrible indeed that sometimes after he got into bed, if he had worked too hard or smoked too much, some of the faces and facts he had met during the day would not keep out of the way long enough for him to get to sleep, and he had to sleep because he was obliged to begin work again at nine o'clock in the morning.
He had studied sociology and he had travelled a little, and so he had supposed he knew about how bad human nature could get; but it is one thing to read in big books, by a comfortable study-table, with a pipe in your mouth, about degeneracy and crime and the per cent. of criminals, and quite another to be daily brought face to face with the scum of humanity and be obliged to mingle with it and ask questions and have it turn its eyes upon you, and let you see in side; worst of all, to realize that these are fellow human beings, and that there is very little to be done about it.
One day a big, burly policeman was shoving an aged, bellowing female into the pen. She had been sentenced to ten days on the Island. Linton got red in the face and ran behind the railing. "Let up on that, officer," he exclaimed. "It isn't necessary to handle them so roughly."
The policeman grinned. "Young feller, you go and sit down. I know my business; you go tend to yours. This old lady's drunk. Let's see you handle her."
Linton could only say, "Oh, shut up," boyishly, but he stepped up to the Justice, who was idle just then, to see what could be done about it. The Justice seemed a pretty decent fellow, but he only shook his head and smiled at the young reporter. "She only cries because she's a woman," he said, re-dipping his pen. "She knows the Island's the best place for her. She'd freeze on the streets this weather."
So, after awhile he found himself becoming accustomed to it. He was powerless to prevent what he saw, so why let it get on his nerves? It was his business to watch all this, so, like a doctor, he was learning to observe suffering and disease from a purely professional point of view. Soon he was able to drum listlessly on the reporters' table with his feet cocked up, while screaming children were being led away to the Gerry Society.
Away up-town, far from the noise of Newspaper Row, far up, nearly to the end of the green park, where the streets are clean and asphalted, and so quiet that horses' feet make a pleasant patter, where there is bright blue sky and sunshine and open, clear spaciousness, with clean-capped nurse-maids wheeling baby-carriages along by the park-wall, where the sparrows twitter—away up there lived a girl that Linton liked to talk to when he was thinking of giving up human nature.
She didn't know much about human nature, but she had a gentle voice and believed in everybody, and some day she was to be a lovely woman. Linton could tell that, and it helped a good deal to know that there were people like this in New York. It helped him to keep his respect for things respectable; it helped him to believe in a good God and fairly good people, and nice, clean sunniness somewhere.
She did not know she was to be a lovely woman nor that she helped anybody. She had an idea that she was a pretty bad lot, and warned him once that he really oughtn't to believe in her, because she was very insincere. At that he laughed a little, which hurt her feelings; and then he was so sorry, and told her so.
She had known him at college and had a high opinion of his abilities. She thought him very plucky and independent to go into newspaper-work against everybody's advice, and she would have liked it if he talked more about himself, which most of the men she knew did too much.
Linton knew that most young men talked about themselves too much. But it wasn't altogether from a dread of self-ridicule that he excluded the topic of himself and his work. It was good to see what life looked like to this girl. It was so different from the way his work sometimes made it look. She went to teas and dances and did the usual girl-things; probably she shopped, too, and doubtless glanced in that quick way at other girls to see how they were dressed, and she said "perfectly lovely" sometimes, but he did not object to that in her. It all seemed so sunny and right and normal, and it was grateful and soothing to hear her tell how hard she worked all morning at her painting, which he took as seriously as she wanted him to. Only she wished he wouldn't make her forget and talk so much about herself; she thought it must bore him a good deal. It did not bore him. And after he left she sometimes wondered what he must think of her. He thought well of her.
But it was such a contrast, listening to this gentle-voiced girl, who believed in him, to mingling and talking with the sorts and conditions of humanity he met in his work, who hated him, that it somehow seemed wrong to have been in her presence and to touch her hand when he said good-by. Then the L road plunged him into the dark vortex of the metropolis once more, and soon he was out upon the busy, crowded streets again, after more of the stuff called news, for New Yorkers to devour and complain about with their breakfast. … Or else this was wrong.
He had been at it long enough now, he thought, to be adjusted. He told himself that news was a commodity and that there was just as much dignity in the getting, handling, selling of it as of woollens or professional opinion or any other article of merchandise.
At least it was so on a paper like The Day, which was neither prurient nor prudish, but clean and clever, with a staff of reporters made up of alert, self-respecting young Americans, for the most part of good education and some breeding, who did not find it necessary to lie or get themselves or others drunk in order to obtain news, which they wrote in very good English.
To be sure there were unpleasant features in worming out news, but so also were there in running about in Wall Street for a bank and being patronized by arrogant cashiers, or getting up at four o'clock in the morning and riding on the back of an ambulance, or serving papers for a small firm of toadying young lawyers, as he knew from his class mates. And there was variety in his disagreeableness and some artistic satisfaction.
In business relations, he argued, one should not expect the same courtesy to prevail as in social intercourse. Business was a struggle, it involved straining and matching one's talents against someone else's; and that was where the fun came in. A foot-ball player did not lose respect, or self-respect, by not stopping to beg pardon every time he bumped into an opponent; he was playing foot-ball. Indeed they were quite like great games, these various pursuits in active life, and he was in one of them, perhaps the most active of the lot. He was sorry for all who were in none. He had had his taste of lazily watching and criticising from the grand stand; and he did not want any more of that. He wanted to work and sweat and be alive. …
The city editor said: "Linton, did you see this divorce story in the afternoon papers? Go look up that lawyer, and get all you can out of him."
The clipping was a despatch from Georgia, stating, in a paragraph, that a certain young woman there had filed suit for divorce. Her husband was a well-known New Yorker, and so it was news for New York papers, and worth more than the few facts given in the Georgia end of it.
It wasn't very pleasant, this kind of an assignment; he would prefer another, but he did not allow himself to expend emotion over it, as formerly. He told himself that he could do anything now.
It was the press's function, he argued, to hold up the punishment of publicity before those who were regardless of the marriage tie. The family is the unit of the state—he had not forgotten his sociology—and without the family the whole social fabric would go to smash. He should do his part toward holding together the social fabric.
A young law-student clerk looked up when Linton asked for Mr. Tarry, and demanded, "What name shall I say?"
"Tell Mr. Tarry," said Linton, "that a reporter is here from The Day, and ask if he cares to see me."
The young law-student said: "What do you want to see him about?"
"My business is with your employer," said Linton, who was learning to deal with all sorts of people.
The lawyer sent out word to come in, and then, without looking up, kept the reporter standing before him for a minute, which was intended to be impressive, until, still scratching with his pen, he emitted a disagreeable "Well, sir?"
The reporter bowed low in mock deference. "The Day," he said, "wants to know if you have anything to add to that."
The lawyer read it through and then scowled at the reporter, who looked blandly back at him.
He was one of those self-important little lawyers with a feeble constitution and a high voice. The reporter did not quail before his glance, as did his office-clerks.
"Now," he said, in a crackly voice, "you took it for granted that you could come in here and make me talk about this strictly private—this very delicate affair, didn't you? You want to write a sensational article with big head-lines, don't you?"
Linton, who was bigger and healthier, looked down at the little man and smiled urbanely. "No," he said, thoughtfully. "No, you're mistaken. I didn't take anything for granted. If you didn't want to see me, all you had to do was to say so. It would not have made the slightest difference to me, I assure you. I am not in the least interested in this thing; in fact, it is rather offensive to me. But, you see, The Day wants to know, for this happens to be news, and news which some people would profit by reading." The lawyer looked at him; the reporter looked back; then went on, wondering why the little lawyer did not terminate the interview. "So I sent in word that there was a reporter here and asked if you cared to talk to me; not that I wanted to talk to you, because I don't. Now, if you want to put The Day straight about this thing, I shall be glad to hear what you have to say, and your client will be represented fairly. But please to bear in mind that you aren't doing me a favor in talking to me, and that I don't care very much either way."
Then the little lawyer surprised Linton. He jumped down from his dignity and talked. He talked amiably enough; he said nothing he ought not to have said, but Linton got five sticks out of it (a half column) and told himself he was upholding the social fabric.
After he had written and filed his story, he told Billy Woods, The Day's star man, about it. Woods despised cub reporters theoretically, but he was always kind to those who came to him for advice.
"There's a great deal in throwing out a good bluff, isn't there?" said Linton.
"Yes," said Woods, "only that was not the reason you bagged that fellow."
"How do you mean?"
"The reason he didn't turn you down was that he wanted the advertising that would come from having his name in the paper as the lawyer to a prominent family," said Billy Woods, who knew his job.
The younger man laughed, and said "That's so."
It is not very pleasant to be interviewing people about divorces, especially when you know perfectly well that the newspaper's motive is not so much to uphold the unit of government as to supply reading-matter that will sell. "Oh, well, all this is good experience," he said to himself. You see he was a sociologist, and he was in this thing to get experience of men and motives, and he was getting it.
He was getting more than he had bargained for. Sometimes it was hard to realize that it was himself going about doing these things, son of so-and-so and grandson of so-and-so. Whether it was snobbish or not, it did seem very odd that he was the one, and sometimes he had a longing to break away from it all and never look at a newspaper again. "But it is not I doing all this," he told himself; "it's a newspaper reporter. I'm playing the part of a newspaper reporter for the experience. It's a very instructive experience."
He had an earnest sociological friend, who, to learn some truth at first-hand, had worked his way across the country as a day-laborer, doing everything that came in his way, from cleaning cuspidors to binding wheat. For a similar motive, Linton told himself, he too was digging out and gathering together more or less interesting truths about men and their wives, from lawyers and others who wanted advertising.
All the same he kept away from the neighborhood of the park the next day, which was his day off, and for several more days. He told himself that it was because it was so hard to come down again. But when he did go once more he began to talk about himself and his work.
She seemed pleased at the opportunity to return a little sympathy.
"Yes," she said, missing the point entirely, "it must be awfully hard work."
"It isn't the hours and all that, I'm talking about," said Linton; "but don't you think it's sort of hard on one's self-respect, some of the things reporters have to do?"
Then he laughed, though there wasn't anything to laugh at, and wanted to change the subject.
"You don't care what people think of you—so long as you believe in yourself. That's what's so fine about it," she said. "Is that what you mean?"
It wasn't what he meant, exactly.
"Thank you," he said. "Look at those people on the four-in-hand. Why do they toot their horn here in the city? We'd all look at them anyway."
But the girl, who had a nice look in her eyes, was sorry for him and would have liked him to know that she would always believe in him, no matter what happened, if that would help any.
He did know she believed in him; not because he was he, but because she was she. He wasn't sure that she ought to. That was what he meant to tell her. Besides it did not help him—in his work.
But he had the disquieting sense of being ridiculous, and the only thing to do at such times was to change the subject.
"I shall be talking earnestly about My Soul next, if I don't look out," he laughed to himself on the way down-town, "and Conscientious-ness and Self-abnega-tion, like a blamed self-conscious New Englander, and say 'After all, how lonely is each one's soul!' and things like that."
Then he ran up the stairs to the office. "Oh, well, I got the half-column out of the little lawyer, anyway," he said to himself.
Linton had been with the paper for a year now, and he had seen all sorts of things, and had rubbed up against all sorts of interests, and talked to all sorts of human beings. He had worked at all hours of the day and night, in all kinds of weather, in all parts of the city and adjacent country. He had worked on Christmas and the Fourth of July, like policemen. It was, perhaps, the hardest work known to civilized man, and he had not once broken down in health; which is very good for a new reporter. On The Day they used to reckon on cubs breaking down at some stage of the first year or so; then, if they don't die, they are supposed to have their second wind after that, and to keep in fairly good health if they leave whiskey alone.
Linton felt himself to be a part of the office. He had a writing-table of his own, with as many cockroaches in the drawers as any of the tables, and a letter-box down by the door, which he turned and looked at automatically when he entered the room.
He took off his coat on the way down the aisle to his table, just like the rest of the staff, and he could tell at a glance that Rice had written the political interview in the first column, and Billy Woods the humorous Women's Convention story, and that Stone had built the spread-head on it.
Also, some of the younger crowd could tell which was Linton's stuff, and what kind of a story he was best at. Other cub reporters had been taken on since Linton, a great many others, and most of them had been dropped after the first month, as was usual in The Day office, which required only the best men. But most of those who remained were rapidly surpassing Linton in usefulness. Linton was not a very good reporter. He was learning to write, and he knew something about handling news, but sometimes he was not so good at getting it as he ought to have been by this time. This was put down to laziness.
It was late in the afternoon. White, the city editor, would soon be going home, and Stone, the night city editor, would take the desk. Down the room sat Linton with his feet cocked up on his table.
"Mr. Linton," called the city editor.
The reporter took down his feet, picked up some copy-paper, and walked to the desk, where the city editor held out a clipping from an afternoon paper. "This isn't for this evening," he said, smiling suavely. "The story is coming up in court to-morrow morning. Will you get up early and cover it?" Early meant 10 a.m.
"But to-morrow is my day off," said Linton.
"Well, do just as you like. There's a good story in it, if you care to do a little extra work. I think you could write this story—about a prominent society woman who's having some trouble with her bootmaker. Claims he didn't send round the shoes she ordered, so she won't take them. He sent her the bill several times, but she's got her back up now and won't pay. It's the same old thing, you know, but there may be some new and picturesque points in it."
The reporter was listening more attentively now. The city editor went on talking. White liked to talk as much as Stone did not. "The shoemaker says he isn't going to let anybody run over him, and all that sort of thing. She says the shoes are ready-made."
"That's good," said Linton, smiling. He had begun to feel the story. He saw the determined little shoemaker coming into court looking vindictive. Probably he would bring the shoes with him. Perhaps both sides would bring shoes, old and new, to put in evidence. He could have fun with the shoes. Then the clamoring lawyers; they would make a lot of noise, and be unconscious of the humor of their earnestness over shoes. The society person would try to keep her dignity and look haughty. Then she would get excited and lose it, if she had to testify. These society people, so called, were always amusing, and The Day was a paper that did not take them quite as seriously as they did themselves; and Linton decided, as the city editor went on, that this was a chance he had often wanted. He knew he could do it well and yet not hurt the paper.
The city editor noted the look on Linton's face, and, being a city editor, approved of it. "There's good humorous stuff in it," he said, handing Linton the clipping, "dialogue and all that, just your line. Do you care to cover it?"
Linton had taken the clipping, and the first words he saw made him feel as if he had been caught doing something he was ashamed of. "Mrs. H. Harrison Wells's shoes," was the head. Everyone knew who Mrs. H. Harrison Wells was, but she happened to be one of the few people in all New York Linton knew personally. That was bad enough in itself, but that was not the worst. She was a first cousin to the girl uptown who stood for everything that newspaper work was not. For a moment he recoiled. He did not like to think of coming, in his newspaper capacity, in contact with anybody or anything even remotely connected with her. So he was asking himself if he could deliberately go to work and make a relative of hers the subject of "an article in the newspaper" for people to talk and gossip about?
"What's the matter," asked White; "don't you want it?"
"Oh, here," interposed the city editor, impatiently; "if you've made some other plan for your day off, say so, and I'll give it to someone else."
"I did make another plan," said Linton, "but I think I'll do this instead." Then, blushing a little at the thought of the other plan, the new reporter added, "This is too good a story to miss," quite like an old reporter, and hurried out of the room.
Perhaps he would not have appreciated this assignment six months ago. But, you see, he was no longer a new reporter. … It is called the News Instinct.